Trying to write an article on where to find Steelhead is a little like trying to write an article on ‘Where to find true love’. It is going to be different all the time. It is going to be easy for some, hard for others. It relies a lot of times on luck, and it takes practice. If you are reading this, then you are probably not satisfied with your success in finding Steelhead. The easiest answer is, to find a fishing buddy that is better at it, or to hire a guide.
When I was a lad, I fished often with another, who could find Steelhead in a mud puddle. I fished with him for days on end, to learn everything he knew. He would catch fish upon fish, let me fish where he fished, doing everything precisely the same, and I would get skunked. When he moved away I was convinced that some people have it, while others don’t. Later, I had a friend that lived on a Steelhead River on the Oregon Coast, and he would call every winter, when fishing was hot. I did better then, and became hooked on Steelhead fishing in general.
However, I still struggle with every aspect of Steelhead fishing, and rationilize by saying I don’t spend near as much time as I would like honing my Steelhead fishing skills. But in my lifelong journey to master the ability to locate where this magnificent fish might be lying, I have learned a thing or two that seems to work.
Water conditions, weather conditions, and season of the year force you to change tactics constantly, but there are some generalities. It helps to think what a Steelhead would want. They want to feel unexposed, they want access to food, they want to move easily, they need gravel for spawning beds. Steelhead are efficient, as they migrate upriver, they will take the path of least resistance. Look for inside corners of river. Don’t ignore very close-in water, numerous times I have waded right out past prime holding water. Look for seams in the water, between fast water and slower water. In smaller rivers, clear water, or bright sunny days they will seek cover, in deeper runs and pools. Big, off color rivers can find Steelhead in slow water right next to the shore.
Water speed is also an important consideration. I prefer water that is about walking speed, not too fast, not too slow. I like it to be no more than eight feet deep, all things considered. Although, at times I fish deeper, especially on bright days or heavily pressured rivers. I also like water that has access to feeding lanes.
Always remember Steelhead move. Just because you located them in a certain spot one day, does not mean they will be there in the next. Especially in large rivers where they have lots of options. I usually don’t give one spot a lot of time to prove no fish are there. I will work an area for five to ten minutes, if there is no fish I move. It could be just ten feet or it could be to a new location altogether.
And lastly if you do find fish. For heaven’s sake stay there! Until you are certain the bite is off, one could take quite a few fish, depending on the amount a spot is able to hold. I learned this the hard way once, when my fishing partners each landed a fish. I moved on immediately figuring the next spot was bound to hold some. They each caught two more, and that was all the fish to be had that day. I lived that one down, eventually.
Which is easier finding Steelhead or true love? I’ll let you be the judge, I know quite a few anglers for whom finding Steelhead IS true love.